Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

Written by Georgina Brown

A tubby old man sits quietly on a bench minding his own business. A gorgeous smiley blonde swoops by and kisses him on the back of the neck. She’s American, a bit Annie Hall, very kooky. She says she thought he was a dead person, someone she loved and lost. She says she’s Georgie, a waitress at Ottolenghi in Islington, whose dishes, she says, set off ‘an explosion in my mouth... take me to different countries’. She’s a human whirlwind, barely drawing breath. Until the man finally butts in: ‘Why are you talking to me?’ Which is terribly funny.

Then they introduce themselves properly. He is Alexander, a butcher. And she admits that she made up all the stuff about being a waitress and is actually a receptionist at a primary school. And she is off again. ‘Do you find me exhausting but captivating? What do you like best about being a butcher?’ ‘I like the animals,’ he says. ‘How they are joined together. Animals have seams.’ And, he adds, very pleasantly: ‘I like knives.’

‘Take me out,’ says Georgie. Simon Stephens’ new play begins as a rather cute, extremely unlikely romance between a glamorous, damaged, emotionally volatile 42-year-old single mother (of a son, aged 19) and an introverted, grounded, stolid 75-year-old man who only once dated a woman, decades ago, who then married someone else and whom he thinks of every day. He loves music. In a deliciously Pinteresque moment, he lists all the types he likes, including funk, disco and dubstep. Loss links these two oddballs. And they go to bed together and he confesses he is falling in love.

So far, so charming and exquisitely played by Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham between whom sparks properly fly. Until Stephens goes and spoils it all by suggesting that this wasn’t some serendipitous meeting, but something Georgie had plotted – which flies in the face of Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty suggested by the title. The uncertainty principle
is surely based on randomness. And on the problem of not knowing how much or what precisely one knows about anything or anyone from one’s own position. Interesting. But hardly rocket science – and certainly not quantum physics.

Much more interesting is Alex’s observation that music is the space between the notes, which is brought to powerful visual life in Marianne Elliott’s stunning production, in which the shape of the stage consistently changes, opening, closing, a bench or bed appearing and disappearing and all washed in glorious lighting, red hot for passion, cooler tones for singing the blues. Gorgeous. But the play is never as good as it looks.

Until 6 January 2018 at Wyndham’s Theatre, London WC2: 0844-482 512, www.wyndhamstheatre.co.uk.